I received an email from my grandfather late in an uncommonly long workday and my mood was instantly lifted. It read:
Dear Katie, I had been waiting to try the homemade beer that you sent me, and last night I decided to take the plunge. It was light on the tongue, with a delicate balance of flavors and aromas. I was particularly impressed with the subtle Saaz hop accent in the finish. I stood your beer next to a pint from one of the local breweries; there was no question that yours was the superior brew.
My grandpa doesn't drink beer. He does, however, have access to the Internet, plenty of time to research beer-related accolades and, (perhaps most importantly) he loves me. That combination resulted in a review of my home brewed beer so stellar that I had to fight the urge to march up to my boss, hand in my resignation, and head out to get a small business loan and a liquor license.
In the last ten years, the microbrew revolution has taken the nation, especially California and the Pacific Northwest, by storm. These beers, hand crafted and brewed in small batches, have gained in popularity, attracting everyone from seasoned adult beer drinkers to insatiable college and high school students. Recently, I was approached outside a liquor store by a boy, no older than 16, who handed me $15 and asked for a twelver of Lagunitas Czech Style Pilsner. I have witnessed my brother throw high school parties that served Pyramid Hefeweizen, complete with lemon slices to top the glasses. In my day, my friends and I were ecstatic over a case of Coors Light ... in cans!
Some people refer to these adamant connoisseurs of microbrews as beer snobs. I prefer to think of them as individuals who have achieved a heightened sense of what they like in a beer; a beer maturity, if you will. At any rate, with this new found appreciation for these specialty beers came a revival, or better put, an expansion, of the home brewing industry. After all, if a couple of guys in Booneville, California can start a profitable microbrewery, what's to stop the average joe from turning his garage into a home brewing enterprise? It's cheaper than buying top shelf beer, it's fun, and it serves as a good introductory topic when you are stuck trying to converse with complete strangers.
So, what does it take to get started? The easiest way is to order a beginners kit, which contains all the necessary equipment and packaged ingredients for your first batch of beer. Bader Brewing Company, located in Vancouver, Washington, is an excellent place to order equipment and ingredients. Another good source for all your beer needs, home brewing and otherwise, is Real Beer, Inc. They provide a virtual cornucopia of beer-related information, ranging from articles, to retailer sites, to local pub guides. These two resources and a Sunday afternoon are all you need to get underway.
The specifics of the brewing process can be found in a vast array of books, magazines, and Internet articles. A starter kit comes with a sheet of instructions, but its a good idea to buy a novice book as well. A good one to start with is Brewing Quality Beers: The Home Brewers Essential Guidebook, by Byron Burch. This book contains an overview of brewing, specific techniques, recipes, ingredient charts, and conversion tables.
Your first batch, made from a pre-assembled ingredient kit, will be very drinkable and will most likely impress your family and friends, but while it is very satisfying to produce a palatable product from the comfort of your own home, that is only the beginning. If you are interested in brewing beer it is probably because you have a great appreciation for drinking beer. Pay attention to the flavors of the beers you like and let your taste buds lead the way to your own unique brands. Carry a notebook to the bar with you. If you try a beer that you like, write down a description of it so you can try to replicate characteristics of it on your own. Will you look like a geek taking notes at a bar? Possibly. But will you look undeniably cool when you show up at a party with a six pack of your own delectable home-brewed beer tucked under your arm? Guaranteed.
The creation of your own recipes from scratch is where things can get interesting. There's nothing worse than painstakingly crafting a beer only to find that weeks later when it is finally ready to be consumed, you have produced a bottle of sludge so foul, so abhorrent, that not even your underage brother and his friends will choke it down for a free buzz. On the other hand, the excitement of popping the cap and finding that your beer is good ... really, really good ... is indescribable. There are a variety of tools available to help you calculate and keep track of your recipes. A good source for these is a company called Beer Tools. They have developed a set of applications that are useful to both the beginner and the experienced brewer. Don't expect brilliance on your first attempt, but do expect a good time.
The possibilities of home-brewed beer are endless and, if you let them be, extremely liberating. You may be the only person in existence who thinks kiwi-banana-berry beer is a good idea, but that shouldn't stop you from making it. Be strong, stand on your own, and craft the beer that no microbrew in the world would dare market. Then put it out there for your friends to try. Who knows what will come of it. Home brewing gives beer lovers everywhere an outlet to experiment with something they enjoy.
In a perfect world, I would be brewmaster extraordinaire of my own nationally distributed beer. I would have top notch brew pubs dotting the map from California to New York, and tourists would come from around the world to try my beer on tap. Men, women and children would be walking the streets with my label plastered across their hats and T-shirts. I would be a regular on talk shows, telling the story of my early days of brewing in Greenbrae, Calif.
It's not a perfect world ... but home brewing brings it closer.
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